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4. The Ravens entered the season with a lot of depth at cornerback -- and it is probably going to get tested more than ever after the injuries to Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.
When Corey Graham signed with the Ravens this spring, he said that one of the main reasons, if not the most important, that he did it was because he wanted an opportunity to show what he could do as a defender. While he was with the Chicago Bears, Graham was "just a special teams player," though he was a damn good one, making it to the Pro Bowl in that capacity. But the Ravens offered him an expanded role on defense, though I'm not sure they or Graham figured it would play out quite like this.
Cornerback Lardarius Webb, a budding star at the premium position, a month ago suffered his second season-ending knee injury in four seasons. Jimmy Smith, a 2011 first-round draft pick who replaced Webb in the starting lineup, didn't play in last weekend's win over the Oakland Raiders and underwent surgery for a sports hernia last week, putting the rest of his regular season in doubt. Graham took over for him in the starting defense, and he hasn't looked out of place, playing well even though quarterbacks at times have picked on him. In Sunday's 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, he picked off quarterback Byron Leftwich early in the third quarter as the Steelers were driving toward the goal line. He returned it 20 yards, almost to midfield, setting the Ravens up for a field goal that ended up being the game-winner.
Graham made a bunch of impressive plays in training camp, and whenever you asked a teammate about Webb or Smith or fellow cornerback Cary Williams, they were always quick to throw Graham's name into the conversation. He hardly got on the field on defense early in the season, but now you see why having this kind of depth at the position is invaluable -- and you see why it was crazy for some to suggest the Ravens trade Williams after he had a couple of subpar games to start the season. That being said, the Ravens secondary is going to continue to get tested, maybe more than it has already. The pass rush had produced six sacks the past two weeks, but Leftwich still had time to scan the field on most plays Sunday. Capable quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Robert Griffin III -- and maybe Ben Roethlisberger for the rematch with the Steelers two weeks from now -- are left on the schedule, and they are probably licking their chops at the collection of castaways and late-round draft picks the Ravens are throwing out there at cornerback. Graham and the group will have something to prove, and they should get plenty of opportunities -- maybe 40 or 50 a game -- to prove their naysayers wrong.
November 19, 2012